Earth Trekkers

Our Travels in 2018…aka…Ideas for Your Next Big Trip

Julie Travel Inspiration 6 Comments

Every December I write an article recapping our year in travel. It is usually just a brief overview of where we went and what did, told from the perspective of our favorite photos and moments of the year.

This time, I want to do something different. Rather than write a simple overview about what we did, I want to share with you our travels and let you know how you can have the same experiences.

You visit our website to learn how to travel better, so why should this article be any different?

So, here are our travel adventures in 2018. We hope they inspire you as you make your plans for 2019. Cheers!

A Quick Recap of 2018

Number of Countries Visited: 13 (USA, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Germany, Switzerland)
Number of New Countries: 4 (Slovakia, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Belgium)
Favorite Destination: Svalbard
Best Travel Moment: A tie between hiking the Zion Narrows top-down and rock climbing Svolvaergeita in the Lofoten Islands, Norway

New York City: February

We spent a long weekend in New York City, taking advantage of a four day holiday weekend. Highlights included exploring Brooklyn and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge during an evening snowfall.

Brooklyn Bridge in the Snow

New York City is one of our favorite cities in the world. We travel to New York City almost every year (plus I spent three years living just outside of the city) and we feel like we know it a lot better than our hometown of Baltimore.

Earlier this year, I wrote a huge post on how to spend five days in New York City. It sounds like a lot of time to spend here, but with five days, you are just starting to scratch the surface of what there is to see and do in this awesome city. This article has become one of the most popular on our website.


5 Days in New York: The Ultimate New York City Itinerary


Florida Keys & the Everglades: February

Later in February Tim and I spent another (very) long weekend exploring the Florida Keys and the Everglades. My cousin Becky got married on the beach in Key West…quite a gorgeous spot for a destination wedding.

Tim and I flew into Miami and then spent a day road tripping down the Florida Keys, from Key Largo to Key West. After spending several days in Key West, we drove back to the mainland, spent a day in the Everglades, and flew home.

Florida Keys in February

Everglades

How You Can Do This

If you live in or near the USA, Key West is a great destination for a long weekend getaway. This is a year round destination, but travel plans occasionally get disrupted during hurricane season.

If you are looking for a great idea for a road trip and have 7 to 10 days, consider a Miami/Everglades/Florida Keys vacation. Spend a day or two in Miami, one day in the Everglades, road trip down the Florida Keys, and end with several chill days in Key West.


Florida Keys Road Trip: 13 Awesome Things to do between Key Largo and Key West

One Perfect Day in Everglades National Park


Paris, Luxembourg, Belgium & the Netherlands: March/April

We like to take advantage of every break Tyler and Kara get from school. They get 10 days for Spring Break and this year we spent our time in Europe.

Paris and Amsterdam are old favorites of ours but we added in new destinations such as Luxembourg City, Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and side trips in the Netherlands to Utrecht, The Hague, and Haarlem.

Easter in Paris

Paris

 

Notre Dame

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

Luxembourg

Luxembourg

 

Ghent

Ghent

 

Utrecht

Utrecht, the Netherlands

How You Can Do This

We did manage to squeeze in a bunch of cities on our whirlwind tour, but since we had already visited Paris and Amsterdam in the past, we did not spend much time in these two cities. Most of our time was spent in the places that were new for us, such as Belgium and the day trips in the Netherlands.

Amsterdam can be very crowded year round. To escape the crowds (and try something new) we used the train to day trip to nearby smaller towns. And these towns, such as Utrecht and Haarlem, are just as fun and worthwhile to visit as Amsterdam. If you are planning a trip to the Netherlands, you should see Amsterdam, but it’s also worth your time to visit some of these less crowded cities.


10 Day Amsterdam Brussels Paris Itinerary

3 Days in Paris: The Perfect Paris Itinerary

One Perfect Day in Utrecht, the Netherlands

How to Visit Bruges and Ghent if You Only Have One Day


Detroit, Michigan: June

Tim had to travel here for work so I tagged along, just to see what Detroit was all about. I wasn’t expecting much and then I spent two days wandering around Detroit in the pure bliss that occurs when a place totally blows away all of your preconceived notions.

Detroit is an underrated city with a tumultuous past, but it is on the up and up. With a fabulous food scene, Motown, one of the best art museums in the USA, and trendy bars, Detroit is surprisingly awesome. I fell in love with Detroit and I wasn’t expecting that at all.

Detroit

How You Can Do This

You can see the best of Detroit in one weekend. Arrive Friday afternoon, spend Saturday and Sunday touring the city, and fly home Sunday evening.


Detroit Travel Guide: Plan Your Perfect Trip to Detroit


European Tour: June, July, & August

With work and school it can be hard to find the time to travel. Tyler and Kara had the summer off and Tim was able to work remotely, giving us just over six weeks to travel around Europe. It was awesome, not just for the four of us to be able to do something like this, but it also gave me so much to write about. In fact, I’m still not caught up…a “problem” that I love to have.

Svalbard

Svalbard, without a doubt, was our favorite destination of 2018.

This is a land of glaciers, the northern lights, the midnight sun, and frozen tundra. Svalbard may seem barren, but it is filled with arctic wildlife like reindeer, walrus, and polar bears. If you like the idea of exploring the great outdoors, your options are almost endless, winter or summer.

Longyearbyen, at 78° north, is the world’s northernmost city. Go snowmobiling, dog sledding, hiking, kayak in front of glaciers, take a boat cruise, see the northern lights, try to sleep through the midnight sun, and if you are lucky, maybe you will even spot a polar bear.

Svalbard feels like an adventure. New landscapes, new experiences…if you are like us, it just may become your new favorite place.

Svalbard

How You Can Do This

To get here you will have to fly through Norway. We spent four days in Svalbard although five days felt like it would have been the perfect amount of time for our family.

Combine a visit to Svalbard with Norway for an epic 10-day adventure. Plan on four to five days in Svalbard and put the rest of your time in either Oslo and southern Norway or Tromsø and northern Norway.


Svalbard Travel Guide: Plan Your Perfect Visit

How Much Does It Cost to Visit Svalbard?

Kayaking Adventfjord and Hiking Hiorthfjellet: A One Day Adventure in Svalbard


Northern Norway and the Lofoten Islands

From Svalbard we flew to Tromsø and went on an awesome road trip through Senja, the Vesteralen Islands, and the Lofoten Islands.

Without a doubt, northern Norway is one of the most spectacular places we have been. With rugged coastlines, small harbors filled with picture-perfect red fishing cabins, winding roads through the mountains, and beaches that look like they belong in the Caribbean, northern Norway is a delight to explore.

This is one of our favorite trips of all time. Every single day here amazed us. The landscapes, the adorable little fishing villages, the epic hiking trails…we thought it would be tough to beat our first trip through the Norwegian fjords, but this road trip is the clear winner.

And it was here we rock climbed Svolvaergeita, one of our favorite travel moments of the year.

Svolvaergeita

Svolvaergeita

 

Vesteralen Norway

Hiking the Stave Bleik Coastal Trail, Vesteralen Islands

Lofoten Islands

Lofoten Islands

 

Tim Rivenbark

Reinebringen

 

Ryten Norway

Ryten and Kvalvika Beach

 

Hiking Norway

Hiking on the island of Senja

How You Can Do This

With ten days you can do the same road trip, starting in Tromsø and ending in the Lofoten Islands. This can be done year round, but May through September is the best time to go because of the ferry schedule.

You can skip Senja and the Vesteralen Islands if you are short on time, and spend four to five days in the Lofoten Islands. But if you have the time, I highly recommend Senja and Vesteralen, especially if you enjoy hiking.


10 Day Lofoten Islands and Northern Norway Itinerary

Discover Northern Norway in 25 Amazing Photos


Poland

For two weeks we toured Poland, visiting Gdansk, Warsaw, and Krakow. Our visit to Poland ended with hiking in the Tatras from Zakopane before moving on to Slovakia. Our mothers, Kathy and Valerie, joined us for this part of our European tour.

Gdansk

Gdansk

 

Warsaw Poland

Warsaw

 

Tatras Poland

Hiking from Zakopane, Poland

How You Can Do This

With 10 days, you can take the same trip, starting in Gdansk and ending in Krakow. Travel by train, day trip to Malbork Castle, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the Baltic Sea. Right now, it is cheaper to visit Poland than many other cities in Europe, so consider going soon. It is getting more popular and with that, crowds and prices will most likely go up over the next few years.


10 Day Poland Itinerary: Gdansk, Warsaw & Krakow

How to Hike to Koscielec in the Polish Tatras from Zakopane

25 Great Things to do in Krakow


Slovakia

In 2017 we kept hearing wonderful things about the High Tatras. So we visited Slovakia just to go hiking. And it was wonderful.

The High Tatras are a mountain range that straddles the Poland-Slovakia border. Hiking is the #1 thing to do here but if you are not a hiker, the High Tatras are still a worthwhile destination. This gorgeous little spot in Europe is a lot less crowded than many other mountain destinations.

While in Slovakia, we also spent a day in underrated Bratislava.

High Tatras

Hiking in the High Tatras

 

Bratislava Slovakia

Bratislava

How You Can Do This

If you want to explore the High Tatras, you will need a minimum of three days, just to give you enough time to do a few hikes and ride the cable cars. More time is better. You can also drive around to Zakopane on the Poland side for a slightly different experience.

If you are planning out a longer trip in Europe, consider pairing the High Tatras with Krakow, Bratislava, Vienna, or Budapest.


Hiking the High Tatras of Slovakia: How to Plan Your Visit

Top 10 Things to do in Bratislava


Plitvice Lakes

In 2017 we visited Croatia but never made it farther north than Split. Plitvice Lakes looked spectacular and we couldn’t miss it again on this trip through Europe.

I have mixed feelings about Plitvice Lakes now that we were there. Yes, this is a gorgeous spot. And yes, it’s worth the visit. But it can get uncomfortably crowded during the busy summer months. However, there are ways to avoid the crowds and have the best experience, and you can read about how to do it in our article about Plitvice Lakes.

Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes Croatia


Plitvice Lakes: How to Have the Best Experience


The Istrian Peninsula, Croatia

It’s normally hot on the Istrian Peninsula in July, but it was made worse this year by a heat wave that hit Europe and wouldn’t release its grip until mid-August.

Crowds are notoriously bad in Dubrovnik and Split in mid-summer. The towns of Rovinj, Pula, Porec, and Piran (Slovenia) get fewer crowds and are a joy to visit, even in the summer.

Rovinj Croatia

Rovinj, Croatia

 

Piran

Piran, Slovenia

How You Can Do This

To visit the Istrian Peninsula we recommend a minimum of three days. Base yourself in one of the coastal towns and day trip to the others. A visit to the Istrian Peninsula works well on a road trip through Croatia or with a road trip through Slovenia. Venice is only three hours away, so you can also visit Italy as well.


Rovinj, Our Favorite Town on the Istrian Peninsula

How to Spend One Day in Pula and Cape Kamenjak


Slovenia

We spent roughly ten days road tripping through gorgeous Slovenia, visiting Ljubljana, Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj, Vintgar Gorge, Triglav National Park, and the Soca River Valley.

This is one of Europe’s best outdoor destinations…perfect if you enjoy hiking, swimming, rafting, or paddle boarding.

Lake Bled Drone

Lake Bled by drone

 

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

 

Lake Bohinj

SUP on Lake Bohinj

Hiking Julian Alps

Hiking in Triglav National Park

 

Triglav

Julian Alps

 

Mangart

Mangart Saddle

 

Tolmin Gorge

Tolmin Gorge

How You Can Do This

With a week to ten days you can visit the highlights in Slovenia. If you like to travel slower, consider spending a week at Lake Bohinj or Lake Bled and take day trips to Triglav National Park, Ljubljana, and the Soca River Valley.


20 Epic Things to do in Slovenia

10 Days in Slovenia: The Perfect Itinerary for Your First Visit

Lake Bohinj Travel Guide: Itineraries for 1, 2 & 3 Days

8 Amazing Things to do in Lake Bled

14 Best Things to do in Ljubljana


Hallstatt, Austria

After seeing numerous photos of this fairytale destination, we could not resist a visit here. Plus, almost everything I read listed Hallstatt as an off-the-beaten-path destination in Europe. Well, the word is out. Hallstatt was one of the most crowded spots we visited this summer. Sure, it’s gorgeous, but it was one of our least favorite travel experiences this year.

However, we did ride the cable car up to Dachstein, a mountain peak just around the corner from Hallstatt, and this was a much better experience.

Hallstatt Austria

How You Can Do This

You only need one day to visit Hallstatt. For the best experience, do most of your sightseeing early or late in the day. Or, go in the off-season.


One Perfect Day in Hallstatt


Alsace Wine Route, France

From Hallstatt, we made a quick visit to Salzburg and then drove across Germany to Colmar, France. For four days we explored Colmar, Eguisheim, Riquewihr, Strasbourg, and more…towns that look like they belong in a fairytale.

Eguisheim France

Eguisheim

How You Can Do This

You need a bare minimum of two days to visit the Alsace Wine Region, but more time is better. You can get here by high-speed train from Paris, so this would make a nice Paris-Alsace trip. Spring and autumn are wonderful times to visit.


10 Fairytale Towns to Visit on the Alsace Wine Route


Lucerne, Switzerland

We had just one day in Lucerne, Switzerland before flying home to the USA. We split our time between sightseeing in Lucerne and hiking on Mt. Pilatus.

Lucerne Switzerland


How to Visit Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus in One Perfect Day


The Zion Narrows: October

Zion National Park is one of our favorite spots to visit in the USA. This was our second visit to Zion and our sole reason for traveling here was to hike the Zion Narrows.

Tim and I love big day hikes. And hiking the Zion Narrows from the top-down is a big day. It’s 16 miles in length and for most of it you hike in the Virgin River.

If you are looking for a hike that will astound you, test your limits, and give you a greater appreciation for the beauty of the American Southwest, the Zion Narrows is perfect for you.

Zion Narrows

How You Can Do This

There are several different ways you can hike the Narrows. You can hike it as a quick day hike from the bottom-up or you can hike the entire length of the Narrows from the top-down. From the top-down, it can be done as a two day backpacking trip or as a very long and challenging one-day hike.


Zion Narrows Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up: Which One Should You Choose?


American Southwest: December

Tyler and Kara had another break from school so we returned to Arizona and Utah for another epic road trip. We flew into Las Vegas, spent several days at the Grand Canyon, and then traveled north to Utah and went hiking in Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Parks.

At the Grand Canyon, Tim and Kara took an amazing helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon. Meanwhile, Tyler and I hiked the south rim to south rim, another beast of a hike that is 17 miles in length with nearly a mile of elevation gain.

Our days in Utah were very chilly, with temperatures struggling to reach 30°F, but crowds were low and snow made the parks even more magical.

The government shutdown had almost no impact on our trip. The parks were still open but Visitor Centers were closed. At Capitol Reef, the scenic drive was closed because a recent snowfall covered the road and without government funding, plows were not available to keep the roads clear. That gave us more time for a leisurely hike and a family snowball fight.

How You Can Do This

This is a great road trip. We flew into Las Vegas and then spent three days at the Grand Canyon. From the Grand Canyon, we drove through Monument Valley to Moab, Utah. Moab was our home base for four nights and we spent three days exploring Arches and Canyonlands National Parks as well as the underrated Dead Horse Point State Park. From Moab, we drove to Capitol Reef and then onto Salt Lake City and flew home the following day.

South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon, at sunrise

Grand Canyon on Christmas

Christmas Morning in the Grand Canyon

 

Delicate Arch in December

Tim and Kara at Delicate Arch

 

Dead Horse Point

Dead Horse Point State Park

We hope this article adds a few new places to your travel wish list. Happy travels in 2019 and if you have any questions, comment below!

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Travel Wish List Ideas

Comments 6

  1. Some great photos and hikes! And you covered a few places I’ve been curious about.

    We’re full-time travellers and have spent a lot of time in Croatia, one of our favorite countries. BUT – one of our least favorite in the summer. As you say in your mention of Plitvice, it gets packed. Just about everywhere in Croatia actually.

    One of our highlights of 2018 were 2 months spent in Ukraine, split between Lviv and Kiev. Both very interesting cities. We’re actually thinking of going back this year for more time – it’s inexpensive, people are friendly, and there’s lots to see (with few tourists).

    All the best in 2019.

    1. Post
      Author

      I have heard great things about the Ukraine and in particular, Kiev. Thanks for sharing (and adding another place on our growing wish list 🙂 ). Cheers, Julie

  2. Wow! That’s awesome that you saw so much! We’re just beginning to really travel with our kids (7 and 9) and visited Iceland last year. My daughter wants to take a cruise this year (kids first one) so we’ll be visiting Central America. Where are you headed in 2020?

    1. Post
      Author

      Iceland looks amazing…it’s still on our wish list!! On our list for 2019 are Greece, Egypt, possibly Mt Kilimanjaro, and hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim (north to south). We are still working on our plans but it should be another great year! Happy travels, Julie

  3. I am planning an 11 day Austria-Hungary-Czechia vacation with wifey and 6-year old daughter in Apr-May 2019. I’ve referred several websites for information and ideas but I found yours the best of the best. I’m building the whole itinerary based on your experiences and recommendations and I couldn’t thank you enough for sharing. Here’s wishing you many more wonderful journeys in 2019.

    1. Post
      Author

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